Rugby Sevens: Short game path to greatness

By Dylan Cleaver

Hosea Gear, if given creative freedom, will inject block-busting venom into the New Zealand Sevens squad's attack. Photo / Getty Images
Hosea Gear, if given creative freedom, will inject block-busting venom into the New Zealand Sevens squad's attack. Photo / Getty Images

With Sevens entering the Olympic programme in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, expect the New Zealand Rugby Union to suddenly elevate the status of the abbreviated form of our national sport.

Until then it sits in a twilight world between apathy and acceptance.

For some of the Commonwealth Games Sevens squad, like DJ Forbes and Ben Souness, Delhi will be the highlight of their years. For others, like Zac Guildford and Hosea Gear, it is akin to a consolation prize for missing out on a place in the All Blacks.

Of course neither would be so silly to admit that. Both will no doubt revel in the freedom the shortened format of the game offers, even if coach Gordon Tietjens' almost mythically brutal training sessions won't be as welcomed.

Sevens can be a great showcase. Jonah Lomu and Christian Cullen's superstardom was launched at the Hong Kong Sevens, while others like Eric Rush became as famous for what they did on the Sevens pitch as their pedigree in fine fifteens careers.

New Zealand will enter the tournament as favourites by virtue of their No 1 seeding and the fact they are the only country to take home gold since Sevens was introduced in 1998.

Their task has been made easier by the Commonwealth suspension of Fiji, though countering that is the fact that the competition in Sevens has never been more intense.

Samoa won this year's Sevens World Series, while Australia finished third just behind New Zealand. England, South Africa and Wales are also expected to be strong, while sides like Canada, Scotland and Kenya are capable of upsets.

Speaking of upsets, the hard-luck story of New Zealand's campaign already goes to Otago's Adam Thomson. The rangy loose forward was hoping to use the Commonwealth Games to showcase his talents to the All Black selectors ahead of the end of year tour.

Instead he injured his knee and has been replaced by Waikato's Liam Messam.

Messam already has Commonwealth gold in his sock drawer, having been part of Tietjens' squad in Melbourne four years ago.

"Adam was a big loss but we have been fortunate enough to now include Liam in our preparations," Tietjens said.

Tietjens has the benefit of having players in form to choose from, even if the form has been on the NPC paddock rather than the Sevens circuit.

Sherwin Stowers has been excellent for Counties Manukau and should emerge as one of the stars of the tournament.

If he and Gear, arguably the form wing in New Zealand over the past six months, are given their head, they could be near unstoppable.

- NZ Herald

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